Blagojevich Pal Lon Monk Sentenced To Two Years In Prison
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Updated 04/03/12 – 2:55 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A longtime friend and former aide to Rod Blagojevich has been sentenced to two years in prison for his role in the corruption scandal that took down the former governor.
Lon Monk pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in October 2009. He admitted helping Blagojevich try to squeeze racetrack owner John Johnston for a $100,000 campaign contribution, in exchange for Blagojevich’s support for legislation to benefit the racing industry.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced him to two years in prison at Monk’s sentencing hearing Tuesday afternoon. Monk was also hit with a $7,500 fine, although prosecutors were seeking ten times that amount — in large part, because Monk had also admitted taking illicit payoffs from a key Blagojevich fundraiser.
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Monk was given 12 weeks to report to prison. He asked the judge to recommend he serve his sentence at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., which is where former Gov. George Ryan is serving his sentence on corruption charges. The final decision is up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Zagel also sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison and sentenced Blagojevich’s former chief of staff, John Harris, to 10 days behind bars.
The judge said Monk deserved a longer prison term than Harris because Monk never told Blagojevich “no” when enlisted to help with any of the former governor’s schemes, unlike Harris, who warned Blagojevich against trying to get campaign cash in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Zagel noted that, as a longtime friend, Monk knew Blagojevich’s personality could cause problems as governor and also put him in the best position to try to stop Blagojevich.
Monk testified at both of Blagojevich’s trials, even though the two had been friends since law school.
The two met at Pepperdine University in the 1980s and they became close friends. Monk later ran Blagojevich’s first campaign for governor in 2002 and then became his first chief of staff after taking office in 2003.
After leaving the governor’s office, Monk became a lobbyist and one of his clients was Johnston, who in late 2008 was pushing for legislation that would reinstate subsidies that casino owners had been paying to the horse racing industry for years.
Monk testified that, in 2006, Blagojevich had signed off on legislation requiring casinos to provide financial subsidies to the state’s horse racing industry, which suffered as a result of the state’s riverboat casinos.
But that legislation expired in 2008 and lawmakers were working on similar legislation to renew the subsidy for another three years.
Monk said that, before lawmakers approved the new legislation in 2008, Blagojevich had tasked him with trying to get $100,000 in campaign cash from Johnston.
Monk testified that, after lawmakers approved the legislation, he and Blagojevich tried to figure out how to convince Johnston to make a contribution before Blagojevich would sign the measure.
In a secretly recorded conversation at the governor’s campaign office, Blagojevich and Monk rehearsed a conversation that Monk could have with Johnston to ask for $100,000 without blatantly linking the money to the racetrack legislation.
“I wanna go to him without crossing the line and say, give us the f***in’ money,” Monk said. “Give us the money and one has nothing to do with the other … but give us the f***in’ money.”
Later, they were heard discussing concerns that Johnston would change his mind about making a campaign contribution if Blagojevich signed the legislation first.
Monk said he could tell Johnston that Blagojevich “feels like you’re gonna get skittish if he signs the bill.”
At Blagojevich’s second trial last year, Assistant U.S. Atty. Chris Niewoehner asked if Monk believed the legislation and the campaign money were linked and if that was the message they were trying to send to Johnston.
“I wouldn’t have had to say that otherwise,” Monk testified. “The purpose was to delay signing the bill so that we could get the contribution before the end of the year.”
Under his plea deal, Monk faces two years in prison. But U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel is not bound by that guideline, and could sentence him to more, or less time.
Last week, Zagel sentenced former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris to 10 days in prison. Blagojevich himself is now serving a 14-year sentence.
Unlike Monk, prosecutors never alleged Harris tried to profit personally from his actions to help Blagojevich. Monk admitted receiving $10,000 cash payments from Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin “Tony” Rezko, without Blagojevich’s knowledge.